Academic institutions all over the world have been haunted by the issue of academic plagiarism for a very long time. Students in academic institutions have resulted into various ways of plagiarism as a means of doing well in their studies. This has effortlessly been simplified by the emergence of internet technology where a lot of information can easily be accessed through the use of search engines and online paper mills (Mills and Paynter 1). According to McCabe and Dordoy, plagiarism is directly proportional to the ease with which information can be retrieved from the internet (qtd. in Mainka, Raeburn, and Earl 13). After realizing the magnitude of the problem, the US established a research program in 1990 which led to the establishment of Centre for Academic Integrity in 1992 with the aim of bringing together students and staff in over 200 colleges and institutions to deliberate on academic integrity. However, they never came up with a common solution to stop cheating and plagiarism, although there was a general feeling that certain basic steps could be taken to bring about positive results universally (McCabe, Trevino, and Butterfield 22). Similarly, according to Mainka, Raeburn and Earl, in UK the first survey was conducted in 1995 and showed clear evidence that plagiarism was prevalent (14). The results were not acted upon until other several surveys were carried out and made them realize there was an inevitable need for a solution to the menace. This led to the establishment of the Joint Information Systems Committee Plagiarism Advisory Service (JISC PAS) to operate at national level. A follow-up was made in 2004 in the first JISC PAS meeting where strategies on how to solve the problem were discussed. During the second International Plagiarism Conference held at Gateshead in 2006, Baroness Deech, The Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education made it clear that there was a serious discrepancy in the application of punishment for plagiarism across the country (Tennant, Rowell, and Duggan 5). This meant that there was a dire need to come up with harmonized policies at the national level on the penalties for plagiarism in US and UK higher education institutions to be able to deal with the vice successfully and impartially. Penalties for plagiarism in the US and UK institutions depict serious disparities, between and within academic institutions on the policies, procedures and levels of punishment.
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Plagiarism definition varies depending on how an individual, department, faculty or an institution defines it. Nevertheless, they all point to one and the same thing. The UK official definition of plagiarism is in accordance with the Oxford English Dictionary 2007, which defines it as " ... the action or practice of taking someone else's work, ideas etc., and passing it off as ones own idea" (qtd. in Tennant, Rowell, and Duggan 5). Plagiarism does not only occur in academic institutions but also in other fields like journalism, law firms, military agencies and information services (Mainka, Raeburn, and Earl 13).
Plagiarism is bad regardless of the angle at which one looks at it. First, the main objective of an assessment is to determine whether a student has acquired the right skills to apply in life. With plagiarized work one is not able to tell whether these skills have been acquired or not. Plagiarists take undue advantage over the diligent students when it comes to competing for the limited opportunities at the postgraduate level and the competitive job market. Plagiarism damages the integrity of the awarding system, lowers the value of academic qualifications and weakens the perception of academic integrity. It is a threat to the reputation of an individual or an institution. As per the law, plagiarism can lead to damaging legal actions which may result to heavy fines. Institutions use a better part of their scarce resources in monitoring, detecting and deterring plagiarism rather than using them in research and teaching (Collins, Judge, and Rickman 2).
Anti-plagiarism policies should give direction on how to deal with plagiarism and specify the penalties related to it, both to the students and the staff (Grieve 2). These policies should be introduced in first year during orientation lectures, be communicated frequently and placed in the available resource centres within the institutions for the students' reference. According to McCabe, Trevino and Butterfield, the institutions should develop a common understanding amongst the students of its anti-plagiarism policies aimed at enabling them to understand the importance of avoiding plagiarism and the available penalties if one fails to comply (222). The policies should outline the plagiarism detection procedures to be followed, institutional processes for the hearings if detected and the application of the penalties. Most of the policies in the US and UK institutions meet these standards by defining what plagiarism is, provide guidelines on how to develop a culture of honesty amongst the students, encourage production of genuine work for instance by increasing supervision in order to curb plagiarism and give direction on how to verify authentic work for example by the use of plagiarism detection tools. However, both countries lack common anti-plagiarism policies governing all the institutions making the penalties to be as diversified as the number of institutions. According to Parks, this makes it difficult to determine the nature and intensity of plagiarism, its changing patterns through time and its variation within and between institutions (qtd. in Carroll 3) resulting to unfairness thus complicating the fight against plagiarism.
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According to Tennant, Rowell, and Duggan, there are 25 different types of penalties which are applied in the various higher education institutions in the UK (8). The same applies to the US. The institutions determine the penalties to be used by considering the following factors: the year of study, the previous instances by the student, degree of plagiarized material, the importance of the assessment and the perceived intentions of the student. These factors classify them into mild, medium and severe penalties depending on the nature of the offence. This lead to what was referred to as the Academic Misconduct Penalty Scale which include (starting from mild to severe penalties):
No further action, informal warning (no note on the student's file), formal warning/reprimand with note on the student's file, work marked as if it is a case of poor/ inadequate referencing (marked on merits), financial penalty ... , resubmission of work (with no cap on work), reflective grade(the overall portion of plagiarized material is deducted from the overall grade ... ), assessment marks reduced (non-specific, ... ), assessment awarded a mere pass grade (e.g. 40% for undergraduate), resubmission of the work required ( with mark capped at a bare-pass), assessment awarded 0% (with no possibility of re-sit), module mark reduced (non-specific), module mark reduced to a bare pass grade (e.g. 40% for undergraduate), module re-sit required (with mark capped at a bare-pass), coursework component of module receives 0% (with no possibility for re-sit), whole module awarded 0% (with no possibility for re-sit), long term suspension, reduce degree classification ... , fail multiple modules, fail year (with maximum re-sit mark of a pass), limit final degree classification to a bare pass, downgrade qualification (i.e. honours ordinary; masters postgraduate diploma), expel or fail student with credits or exit qualification (e.g. diploma), expel/fail student (non specific) (and finally) expel/fail student with no credits or exit qualification (Tennant, Rowell, and Duggan 20 - 21).
Although plagiarism is evil, we should realize that we are dealing with human beings. Before deciding on the type of penalty, there are several questions that we need to ask ourselves. Whose failure is it, the system or the student? Has the student been equipped with the right knowledge, information seeking and writing skills necessary to carry out the coursework effortlessly? Has the institution instilled the right values that promote academic integrity to the student? Has the institution created an environment whereby plagiarism is minimized as much as possible? Has the student been prepared to see assessments as an integral part of his/her own learning? Once these and many more questions have been answered and addressed positively, we can then decide on the penalty depending on the evidence provided. The policies should be fair enough to the students. According to Carroll, fairness is achieved when the students who do not follow the stipulated rules properly are punished and the ones who obey are recognized and rewarded (3). These are some of the reasons why the policies are formulated to act as a standard measure in administering justice.
In conclusion, there is enough evidence that plagiarism is an epidemic in the US and UK, and the two countries are fighting the vice. However, there is much that needs to be done especially on the aspect of coming up with an undiversified policy for fighting plagiarism not only in US and UK, but the world all over. Borrowing from the popular American phrase `United we stand, Divided we fall', institutions should come together and fight plagiarism from a collective point of view. Although a louse is a small creature which is really irritating, one can not crush it with one finger. Two or more fingers have to be use to deal with it. Likewise, plagiarism has to be fought from a holistic point of view with clear and well defined policies cross-institutionally.